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Rugged Rides: Top 10 Adventure Motorcycles

Going Exploring? Here Are Your Best Adventure Motorcycle Options.

Adventure Motorcycles 1

The problem with trying to write up a Top List for adventure motorcycles is that everyone has their own opinion of what an adventure bike truly is. Different people have different ideas about what an “adventure” even is, so it’s hardly surprising that the segment is hard to define. For some riders, an adventure involves a long slog on the highway broken up by a couple of dirt roads they know on the other side of the interstate. For others, it means standing on the pegs for hours at a time, weaving through potholes, and churning up mud every step of the way.

Another major issue is that a lot of the major manufacturers are quite happy to put the word “adventure” across the tank of something in their line ups and market it as something that’s capable of traversing deserts and jungles without a hiccup. And that’s not really true for a lot of those so-called adventure bikes out there.

For a start, you’ve got that category of motorcycles that look like an adventure tourer should look – an upright riding position, longer suspension travel, a front screen – but they’re really far more at home in urban environments.

Next, you’ve got the other extreme: utilitarian dirt bikes that really can scale mountains and cross rivers, but they’re not much fun when you’re trying to clock serious mileage on roads with your camping gear strapped across the non-existent seat.

The ideal adventure motorcycle needs to take the best elements of both of those worlds and fuse them in a usable package.

Since there’s no real clear consensus on what an adventure motorcycle truly is, this list is going to cover all bases. We’ve got a few themed adventure motorcycles into the mix, but for the most part, we’ve decided to opt for motorcycles that can actually handle off-road terrain. And by off-road terrain, we mean real off-road terrain – not a sandy path or a slightly muddy puddle. If you’re looking for strictly off-road mud machines, check out dirt bike guideLet’s start with the more urban-focused adventure machines. 

Intrepid Rides: Top 10 Adventure Motorcycles

Kawasaki KLR650 ABS

What we have here with the Kawasaki KLR650 is one of the best adventure bikes on the market, especially with the most recent update. With a similar price to other budget adventure bikes like Suzuki’s Vistrom and DR650, the KLR650 delivers a lot of bang for your buck. If you’re looking to have a serious adventure, riding one of these will pay dividends. The engine’s simple single-cylinder arrangement makes it a nice and basic motorcycle that you can fix with whatever you’ve got in your tool kit.

The KLR650’s simplicity might be its appeal, but it also comes with the usual touring and adventure accessories like a front screen, a decent-sized gas tank and luggage racks, and of course, it’s an absolute joy to ride. You’re not going to win any prizes for acceleration on the road, but for scrambling up dry river beds or fishtailing in the sand dunes, the KLR650 is a handy companion. And you can pick them up for very good prices, too.

Seat Height: 34.3 Inches

Fuel Tank Size: 6.1 Gal

KTM 1290 Super Adventure R

KTM is undoubtedly one of the leading lights in the adventure motorcycles department, and its updates to the Super Adventure line are incredible. Specifically, we like the 1290 Super Adventure R – it comes with so many top-of-the-range bells, whistles, and riding aids, it’s hard to know who’s riding who when you take it one for a spin. This is a motorcycle that has been built for real adventure. If you just want to pretend that you’re an adventure motorcyclist, then this is a colossal waste of money.

Heavily off-road biased, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R features more than just the 21 and 18-inch spoked front and rear wheels, and much more than the fully adjustable WP suspension package. We don’t need to wax lyrical about how good KTM’s adventure motorcycles are, because the company’s trophy cabinet can do all the talking.

Seat Height: 35 Inches

Fuel Tank Size: 6 Gal


In our battle of the 800s, we had one clear winner. Between the Triumph Tiger and the BMW F850GS, it had to be the BMW. As fun and exotic as a triple-cylinder engine is, there’s nothing wrong with a good old fashioned twin-cylinder. With 90hp, 63 lb-ft of torque, and boasting a respectable top speed of 125 mph, the BMW is great fun on the roads but it’s even more fun in the dirt. Believe it or not, it’s lighter and more manageable than the Triumph and it feels very sturdy and stable on the rough. As an adventure motorcycle, it is a fantastic option and the F850GS comes with a whole host of luggage options and bolt-on additions that you’d expect from a BMW adventure machine.

Like with any motorcycle, there are a few downsides. The BMW F850GS doesn’t score higher on our list because it’s not the most exciting of motorcycles on the market, the seat isn’t the most comfortable, and there are a lot of ergonomic irritations like the screen being too low and the footpegs not wide enough for normal human feet. Small problems, true, but problems nonetheless.

Saddle Height: 33.9 Inches

Fuel Capacity: 4 Gal

Kawasaki Versys

First up we’ve got Kawasaki Versys. There’s no denying that the Versys is an exceptional motorcycle – it’s ideal for commuting, highway riding, and long-distance touring. However, as an adventure motorcycle, it’s not as good as it could be. It’s more of an adventure-themed bike than a real adventure motorcycle, but it’s more than capable of getting the job done providing that you know the bike’s limitations and respect them. Will it allow you to explore a few good off-road trails? Yes. Will it successfully take you across the Gobi Desert? Unlikely.

This is a great choice for an adventure motorcycle if you’re looking for a versatile bike that you’re mainly going to be riding on the roads. The parallel-twin engine has nice, smooth power delivery and offers exceptional mileage. Couple that with the practicality of a comfortable seat for long-distance riding and other rider comforts such as a tall windscreen and a relaxed riding position and you’ve got a great package on your hands. Just don’t expect it to win many off-road races while you’re riding it.

Saddle Height: 33.1 Inches

Fuel Capacity: 5.5 Gal

Suzuki V-Strom

Next up, we’ve got the Suzuki V-Strom 650. The V-Strom is very much like the Kawasaki Versys in that it is more of a themed bike rather than a true adventure motorcycle. However, it scores a little higher than the Kawasaki thanks to the fact that it comes armed with a more off-road oriented 19-inch front wheel – which goes a long way when you’re trying to navigate a rocky trail. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to put it further up the list but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve a mention. The fuel-injected, 645cc V-twin engine boasts a healthy 66 hp at 8,800 rpm and around 44.5 lb-ft of torque at 6,400 rpm – and it’s an absolute dream to ride on the road.

Again, it’s a better adventure motorcycle for those who prefer to adventure on paved roads but are easily persuaded to have a look where that overgrown trail goes every now and again – provided that they know when enough is enough. It’s not great off-road if you’re not an experienced bushwhacker. However, if you’re looking for a versatile ride with great mileage to help you tame the urban jungle, this is an ideal weapon of choice.

Saddle Height: 32.9 Inches

Fuel Capacity: 5.3 Gal

Triumph Tiger 800 XCx

While the Versys and V-Strom were obvious choices to kick-start the list, the addition of the Triumph Tiger 800 XCx so early on might upset some people. There’s no denying that the Tiger 800 is a fantastic model. Thanks to that fun triple-cylinder engine, it makes for a great machine that has enough grunt for a wide range of riding styles but keeps the whole package light and nimble at the same time. Boasting 95 hp at 9,500 rpm and 58 lb-ft of torque at 8,050 rpm, it does exactly what it says on the tin. To make matters even more appealing, Triumph treated the Tiger 800 XCx with proper off-road ABS and traction control, which makes it very easy to ride over rough terrain.

It doesn’t score higher on our list for a few reasons. Firstly, we’re going to feature another 800 next which is better in a few ways. Secondly, the suspension on the Triumph is a notorious problem and plenty of reviewers have had a hard time with it – and adventure bike suspension is a crucial component. There have been other problems too. Rattling fixtures, a temperamental gearbox, oil leaks, and fuel issues are all regularly reported problems. None of them are major, but if you’re going to be munching miles or heading into the unknown, these minor irritations can at best drive you insane or at worst develop into even bigger problems.

Want to check out something on the higher end? Read our writeup of Triumph’s super stylish Scrambler 1200 Bond Edition.

Saddle Height: 33.7-33.85 Inches

Fuel Capacity: 5 Gal

Yamaha Super Tenere ES

The 1,199cc Yamaha Super Tenere ES is a bit of a wildcard here on the list since Yamaha isn’t really the most famous manufacturer of adventure motorcycles. That being said, there’s something about the Super Tenere ES that makes it worthy of note. It’s got a nice and powerful engine, a 22.2-inch saddle height, and seems to tick all of the relevant adventure motorcycle boxes – but this is really a road motorcycle wearing off-road clothing. Sure, it can off-road, but the Yamaha Super Tenere really lends itself to sealed road voyaging rather than hacking its way along an unbeaten path.

Most adventures require a good deal of road riding, so we felt that the Super Tenere deserved a place on the list. Since a lot of the most respected adventure motorcycles on the market are essentially dirt-focused machines that have been re-jigged to accommodate for rider comfort and sensible road riding, we thought it would be nice to add something different: a road motorcycle that has been essentially modified for a bit of off-road exploration. Armed with 110 hp and 86.3 lb-torque at 6,000 rpm, the Super Tenere is a great adventure motorcycle for those who need to clock a lot of miles on the road in between off-road excursions.

Saddle Height: 33.3 Inches

Fuel Capacity: 6.1 Gal

Ducati Multistrada 1260 Enduro

Yeah, the Ducati Multistrada – but only on the condition that it’s the new Enduro model. While the Ducati Multistrada might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you’re trying to think of potential adventure motorcycles, it’s time to change that mindset. Before, the Multistrada was very much a comfy 160 hp road bike – but thanks to some successful re-engineering from Ducati, the new Enduro model is a ferocious off-roader that can genuinely tackle off-road trails…and with remarkable ease.

Somehow, Ducati has managed to turn the Multistrada into a nimble machine that can handle technical, slow-speed maneuvers on difficult surfaces as well as being an unrestrained animal on the highway. This new dynamic comes thanks to revised frame geometry, practical suspension, and a tweaked engine. If you thought that the Multistrada Enduro was just a regular Multi with a few poser bits added to it, you would be 100% wrong. This is one of the most versatile adventure bikes on the market.

Seat Height: 33.8 Inches

Fuel Tank Size: 5.3 Gal

BMW R1250GS Rallye

It had to be on the list, didn’t it? While it’s fun to poke fun at the big boy of the GS range and the riders that insist upon wearing their Long Way Round-themed adventure suits on their arduous voyage down to the grocery store, let’s not forget that it is an incredibly well-engineered motorcycle. The GS range accounts for a huge portion of BMW Motorrad’s sales, and it’s not hard to see why. At its heart, there’s an amazing 1254cc boxer twin that pushes out a fearsome 136 hp at 7,750 rpm and a peak torque figure of 105 lb-ft at 6,250 rpm – and that hefty boxer unit actually does more than just power the bike, because it also helps to keep your gravity low and manageable.

Couple that engine with features such as electronic suspension and dynamic traction control and you’ve got a motorcycle that handles exceptionally well at slow speed, which is very important when you’re navigating across difficult terrain. The handling is absolutely effortless – but it works best in slow conditions – you won’t be thrashing this one through the dirt at speed. And you wouldn’t want to either, because it’s an expensive toy to drop. That’s why we’re not going to be awarding the BMW R1250GS Rallye the top spot on our list of the best adventure motorcycles.

Seat Height: 35.0 & 35.8 inches standard, 32.3 inches optional

Fuel Tank Size: 7.9 Gal

Honda Africa Twin

Honda has put a lot of effort into the Africa Twin, and to be honest, it’s hard to find fault with this motorcycle. Producing 101 hp at 7,500 rpm and 77 lb-ft of torque at 6,250 rpm from its 8-valve parallel twin motor, the Africa Twin is a force to be reckoned with on the highway. In the right hands it can keep up with some of the swiftest sport bikes on the market, and it handles perfectly on the asphalt. It’s great on the road, but it truly excels in the dirt. Thanks to its compact design, decent ground clearance, and impressive suspension travel, there aren’t many obstacles that the Africa Twin can’t traverse. Coupled with a slipper clutch, these features make riding it off-road an absolute pleasure.

While most modern adventure motorcycles are treated with a bevy of riding aids, the Africa Twin comes with the bare essentials. There’s no ride by wire,  no fuel maps, and the traction control options are very limited. To some riders, this is an issue, but if you’re really into adventure riding, the fewer things that can go wrong, the better. And it’s this stripped-down nature that really makes the Africa Twin one of the greatest adventure motorcycles ever made.

Seat Height: 34.3 and 33.7 Inches

Fuel Tank Size: 5 Gal

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is an adventure motorcycle?

A: Simply put, an adventure motorcycle is a bike that can handle a wide range of situations. These motorcycles are designed to operate well on sealed and unsealed roads, carrying riders comfortably, regardless of the terrain. They can perform just as well on highways as they could traversing deserts, and whilst carrying luggage too. Adventure motorcycles have long-travel suspension, dual-purpose tires, and other adventure-focused accessories to tackle almost anything.

Q: Where to ride adventure motorcycles?

A: The beautiful thing about adventure motorcycles is that they can be ridden anywhere, from paved highways with fast corners and sharp turns, to desert tracks without a road in sight. Many people use them for commuting, while others prefer to ride them as they were intended: across continents and across borders.

Q: What is the most reliable adventure motorcycle?

A: According to a study from Consumer Reports that assesses the overall reliability of products manufactured by different motorcycle brands, a Yamaha adventure motorcycle would be the best choice on paper. However, the Consumer Reports metric has to be taken with a grain of salt. If we had to choose a reliable adventure motorcycle, we’d actually measure it on the strength of how easy a problem would be to fix. That’s why we would choose the Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin as the best choice. Not only is Honda a very reliable brand name, but in the event of a breakdown on a real adventure ride somewhere in the middle of nowhere, you’re more likely to find Honda spares than any other brand.

From the jungles of Vietnam to the Mongolian steppe, you’re going to find a mechanic with a few Honda parts tucked away. If you think that a nomadic mechanic in the middle of nowhere is going to have a couple of Ducati parts in his saddlebags, then you should probably rethink your adventuring plans. Yamaha may be the most reliable on paper, but Honda has the biggest presence.

Q: What is the best adventure motorcycle?

A: The Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin is the best adventure motorcycle in our opinion. The BMW GS series has always been celebrated but they aren’t without their faults. The KTM 1290 Super Duke R is a fantastic motorcycle and probably the best choice for those who do nothing else apart from adventuring 24/7 365 days of the year. The Honda Africa Twin can adventure, but it can also be a very competent day to day motorcycle, which is why we think it’s the better investment.

About Joe Appleton

Joe is a motorcycle industry veteran who has not only been paid for his words on the industry but also to throw a leg over a bike on the track. Besides riding, and occasionally crashing motorcycles, he also likes to build up older bikes in his garage in Germany. He says; "I like what I like but that certainly doesn’t make my opinion any more valid than yours…" We like Joe's educated opinion and hope you do too.